Family relationships are some of the most rewarding and complex relationships a person can experience and for many, are influential over the course of a lifetime. More specifically, parent-child relationships can determine various aspects of family functioning. Different parenting styles can promote or hinder child development. Authoritative parenting style has been deemed the ideal parenting style that offers healthy child adjustment (Minaie et al. 2015).
Theoretical Context for Concept
Diana Baumrind (1971) developed one of the most widely used theories of parenting typology. Through her extensive work of observing children from elementary school through adolescents, Baumrind created three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive (Pellerin 2005). Maccoby and Martin then expanded Baumrind’s theory and provided further detail of different parenting styles (Wang and Fletcher 2016).
The different parenting styles are based on intensity of two dimensions, responsiveness and demandingness. The two dimensions are not mutually exclusive rather they interact together and are used to typify each parenting style (Minaie et al. 2015). Parents who are low on demandingness and high on responsiveness are classified as permissive, while parents who are low on responsiveness and high on demandingness are considered authoritarian. Parents who are high on responsiveness and high on demandingness are characterized as authoritative parents (Minaie et al. 2015). Authoritative parenting style is identified as having the most optimal outcomes for children. Parents who utilize an authoritative style often have children who are better adjusted socially, academically, (Cowen and Cowen 2003) behaviorally, and psychologically (Minaie et al. 2015), compared to the other two parenting styles.
Authoritative parenting balances the qualities of responsiveness and demandingness. Parents who are high in responsiveness demonstrate the ability to exercise empathy, warmth, acceptance, and love toward their child(ren). While parents who are high in demandingness are able to set boundaries, limits, and age-appropriate expectations tailored toward healthy child developmental trajectories (Pellerin 2005). Thus, an authoritative parent has the ability to nurture their child while also enforcing healthy rules. Parents who utilize authoritative parenting are flexible and reasonable with their child(ren). They provide positive reinforcement while enforcing firm expectations that are clearly rationalized and communicated with their child(ren) (Woody 2003).
From a developmental perspective, parenting styles need to be taken into consideration. Authoritative parenting is associated with healthy development for children and adolescents. This style of parenting encourages a child to think about their behaviors and reflect on how the behaviors tie to their values (Fernandez et al. 2013). Parents, who are attuned and supportive, are able to create an environment that fosters this type of critical thinking. In turn, behaviors become much more meaningful for the child. Authoritative parenting by its virtue buffers some of the risk factors that are tied to adolescence resulting in more positive outcomes associated with this parenting style than authoritarian or permissive. Child and adolescent outcomes are tied to adjustment and educational success (Fernandez et al. 2013).
Consideration must be given to the fact that parenting styles are culturally driven (Van Campen and Russell 2010). Though the authoritative parenting style has been observed as yielding the most ideal outcomes for children, an effort should be made to understand the cultural influences on parenting styles regardless of style in order to ensure best fit for families.
Application of Concept in Couple and Family Therapy
When integrating parenting styles into family therapy, therapists must consider communication and education about various parenting styles. The discussion of parenting styles can feel accusatory or punitive, thus cognizance about the sensitive nature of parenting is pertinent to building trust and rapport in session. In alignment with authoritative parenting, the therapist should model empathy and warmth toward the parent and the child, while maintaining boundaries with the dyad.
The therapist is responsible for utilizing techniques to elicit awareness into current parenting methods as well as parenting expectations. During this process, the therapist can begin a discussion on balancing responsiveness and demandingness; these techniques can also be reinforced in session with a parent and child. The therapist should offer therapeutic interventions consistent with authoritative style of parenting and guide parents in adapting these interventions to work within the family unit. Boundary setting can be difficult for some, and a therapist should assist parents in understanding how to set boundaries among different family processes.
The role of the therapist should be one of consideration for the parenting context and cultural influences that shape different parenting styles. Though authoritative parenting style has largely been favored in the Western culture (Woody 2003), the therapist should consider how cultural beliefs shape parenting styles (Kotchick and Forehand 2002). Consideration should also be given to how responsiveness and demandingness are interpreted and applied in different cultures. The therapist needs to be willing to support parents and children when applying concepts of authoritative parenting.
Georgia is the guardian of her 16-year old granddaughter, Tracy. Georgia has been raising Tracy since Tracy’s mom went to jail 11 years ago. Due to financial struggles, Georgia works long hours and Tracy is often alone. Georgia has firm expectations of Tracy while Georgia is away from the home. Recently, Georgia and Tracy entered therapy. Georgia was becoming increasingly concerned about the defiant behaviors she was seeing from her granddaughter. Although Tracy is the model student she has started “getting an attitude” with Georgia and has become more argumentative. Tracy insists that if Georgia would just “leave me alone” that things would be okay, but Georgia experiences this as Tracy not obeying her rules or respecting her as a parent. Georgia is concerned she is headed down the same path as her mother.
The therapist first inquired about the context in which Georgia’s parenting style developed. After several sessions, Georgia finally reveals that she felt she was too permissive with her own daughter and decided to parent her granddaughter the way she was parented. Georgia described her own parents as strict and controlling. In expressing guilt over daughter’s current situation, Georgia acknowledges that her current parenting style may not be effective either. The therapist guides Georgia to reflect on how the two different parenting styles, as varied as they are, may be eliciting similar behaviors. In offering Georgia another perspective, the therapist explained how Georgia can nurture Tracy and at the same time enforce age-appropriate rules. Tracy was present in the session while the parenting discussion was happening, which allowed for Tracy to be an active participant in therapy and gain an understanding of Georgia’s current parenting practices.
In the coming weeks, the therapist worked with Georgia and Tracy in session to assist Georgia in utilizing a more flexible and responsive approach to parenting with Tracy. The therapist noted that there was a reduction in conflict and that Tracy was no longer displaying the behaviors that initially brought the family to therapy. The therapist was able to utilize an authoritative parenting approach to create the balance needed to support the needs of both Georgia and Tracy.
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